In November, international leaders met in Bonn, Germany at COP23 to advance work on the global climate deal reached in Paris during COP21. Many questions remain unanswered on how to get there, but the overarching need to transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy is clear for all to see. This will not happen overnight, of course, but the right path must be set out now. At the International Copper Association (ICA), we take our role in this transition very seriously.
The discourse on the world’s low-carbon future needs to integrate more holistic thinking regarding the sourcing of both energy and materials. It needs to minimize geopolitical risks, and it should include a circular, life-cycle based approach, including manufacturing, production and end-of-life. This will enable a holistic approach for product and service designers, engineers, policy makers, and consumers to uncover trade-offs while planning for a sustainable future.
As part of our commitment to sustainability, and to help our members improve their own processes, ICA has gathered information and data to enable the users of copper to evaluate its impact and benefits across the life cycle. The result of this work is our Copper Environmental Profile (download in English, Spanish, Chinese) which features the most representative and comprehensive global data set on copper cathode and concentrate to be made publicly available to date.
The Life Cycle Assessment
What did we measure and how?
The system boundary of the study included a cradle-to-gate life cycle inventory (LCI) from the extraction of copper ore to the production of copper cathode, both primary and secondary. The study was conducted in accordance with the ISO 14040 series of standards on life cycle assessment (LCA) and underwent a critical review by an expert panel, chaired by Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner, Technical University Berlin, Germany.
Specific primary data for the study was provided by ICA’s member companies and modeled using GaBi software and its 2014 databases for background data. The dataset includes production from four continents (North & South America, Asia and Europe), and is representative of ICA member copper concentrate and cathode for the reference year 2013.
What did we find?
The LCA results highlight hot spots for our members across multiple environmental impact categories (e.g. energy demand, global warming), while providing the necessary building blocks for life cycle assessments involving copper conducted globally.
The study confirms, among other things, the need for the copper industry to continue its efforts on the reduction of on-site sulfur dioxide emissions and to play its role in advocating for environmentally preferable sources of electricity in the regions in which copper is produced. Currently, the environmental profile of copper is determined in large part by the electricity mix.
What will we do going forward?
The LCA results will help the ICA and our members to enhance our contribution to sustainable development and identify priority issues for further improving our environmental performance. For example, the LCI dataset, along with our recently completed updates of global copper stocks and flows data, which can be seen in our updated briefs on recycling and long-term availability, provide the necessary foundation for a circular economy analysis of copper.
Going forward, our members are committed to providing LCA practitioners a global, reliable data set. As such, we have committed ourselves to repeating this process at regular intervals in the future.
A more detailed LCI dataset can also be obtained upon request to ICA. In addition, ICA has arranged with thinkstep, the owners and providers of GaBi software, to include the dataset in the Professional Database.
Andrea Vaccari, Director Health, Environment & Sustainable Development, International Copper Association